What do doctors, teachers and writers have in common? by@babulous

What do doctors, teachers and writers have in common?

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The Back Story

Medium just introduced a $5/month membership fee. It’s not much even in Indian money. Around the same as my 4G mobile bill for a month, or a quarter of my internet broadband bill. If this works out, the good thing is the site will not be defiled by ads.

Maybe it’s the right way for Medium to go. But I have my doubts. Firstly, I’m a bit confused. When I click on the new ‘Become a Member’ link in the pull down menu, I see ‘Medium will remain free and open for anyone who wants to share ideas with the world.’ In the next section, I see ‘You’ll have access to exclusive stories from leading experts…’ And then, ‘You’ll get the first look at our newest reading features, starting with a new homepage…’

Does ‘exclusive’ mean some sections of Medium will not be ‘free and open’ to non-member readers? Or does it mean, I just get early access to the some articles, and some other privileges like a new homepage design, but the site will remain free and open to readers as well as writers? As I understand, all this is a reward for my willingness to support Medium pay for good content.

I am giving Medium the benefit of doubt, assuming it is the latter, and signing up for now. Medium does have a help page clarifying a lot of this, but I will have to see how it pans out in reality. In any case, $5 is a small return for all that I have got from Medium in the last year or so.

If I find out later that Medium is not truly free and open, I will most probably back out of the membership. The idea of having a wall between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ turns me off. For instance, I know most Indians will not pay to read. It’s just a habit, as they are used to a free internet.

All this was on my mind when I was introduced to a new economic theory a few days ago. It says in the new economy of knowledge, information and human services, you can’t motivate people solely by self interest (money). It seemed relevant to what was happening at Medium. Let me elaborate.

The Teacher

A few days ago, my kid’s maths teacher posted a picture of himself with his student who had just won an Oscar for technical achievements. Teaching in India is not a well paid job. The reward this teacher gets is not money for himself. But the happiness of knowing he has been able to help a student fulfill his potential. Recently, he worked his miracle on my daughter. She used to hate maths, but began to enjoy the subject after he started teaching her. As a father, I know the difficulties in raising a child. To selflessly do that with not just one child but many children, boggles my mind.

The Doctor

Or take this brilliant Indian neurosurgeon I know. He could have migrated abroad like most of his classmates and minted money. But he chose to stay back in India, even though he was earning but a fraction of what he could make abroad. He told me he felt a kind of ‘calling’ to help the sick and needy in India. His reward comes from knowing he helped heal others, and not from the size of his bank balance. As he put it, if he were to work solely for money, it would be demeaning what he did. Ironically, today almost the entire medical industry in India is driven by money, and is an unholy mess of predatory profiteering off the sick. This only reiterates the fact that pure self-interest will not work in such a field.

The Writer

Let’s take Medium. There are so many writers here, posting fresh and insightful thoughts and stories. The majority aren’t getting paid for writing but they still churn out tons of posts. So why do all these writers write?

Obviously, they wouldn’t mind getting paid for it. But money does not seem to be the prime motivator. Could it be like doctors and teachers, these writers are motivated by a need to help others? Do they share their thoughts in the hope that it makes a difference to some reader?

I know this holds true for me. There’s this post I put up recently about how I used WhatsApp to get help from the Indian police. India’s people share an uneasy relationship with its police and usually avoid having anything to do them. So if a few of my readers began using WhatsApp to get help from the police, I would feel my post was worth the time and effort I took to write it.

The Wall

This is where Medium has thrown a spanner in the works with its new exclusive paid members only zone. I’m not sure how it works but let’s call it a paywall for now.

Would I object if Medium made that post of mine available only beyond that paywall? Yes, that would defeat its purpose. I would want as many people as possible to know about being able to anonymously contact the police in India via WhatsApp. A paywall would kill the post, as most Indians would not pay to read, like I mentioned earlier.

What if Medium offered to pay me for putting the post beyond a paywall? Again, my answer would be no. My primary motivation to write that post is to get people to know about the above. So if it’s not going to be read, then the post is pointless.

Ok, forget Medium. What if New York Times offered to pay me to write an article on Indian politics that would be available solely behind a paywall. I would jump at it as it’s good money and recognition. But in the long run, the carrot, stick, or even the sack won’t be enough to motivate me to write.

Because if I don’t have a sense of purpose for my writing, I’ll just go blank.

The Conundrum

I had recently written a post on how Medium could generate income instead of putting the paywall for readers. I know it’s done and dusted now. But Medium is an evolving platform, and maybe these thoughts still make sense.


What if Medium puts a paywall for writers_Because writers will do almost anything to get published_hackernoon.com

But the biggest problem of being an unknown writer is a lack of credibility. Like if Zuckerberg were to call Ev Williams and suggest how Medium could generate income, Ev might probably give him a hearing, and mull over the advice. Why? One reason is because Mark is famous. The second is he’s a recognised expert in related fields. The third could be that he would be able to build a strong rationale for his advice, backed up with data.

In short, Zuckerberg has credibility.

However Ev is highly unlikely to read the thousands of suggestions by writers at Medium on the same subject as most of the writers lack credibility. Which is a pity as some of those thoughts are quite insightful.

It’s a vicious circle. If you don’t have credibility, no one will pay attention to what you write. And if no one pays attention to your writings, you are never going to gain credibility.

The Nowhere Man gets a hand

The whole thing reminded me of the Beatles song, ‘Nowhere Man.’ So is the nowhere man destined to forever be, “Sitting in his nowhere land, Making all his nowhere plans for nobody”?

I found the answer to that in the song itself, “Nowhere man don’t worry, Take your time, don’t hurry, Leave it all till somebody else Lends you a hand”

Sure enough, someone did lend me a hand.

My post was tagged by another writer, Keith Parkins, on top of his post, which was itself a reproach to Medium for putting a paywall for readers. He had an apt analogy of Medium being the ‘commons’ which provided a fertile ground for writers all over the world to exchange ideas. And the paywall being the equivalent of the medieval ‘enclosure of the commons.’ And just as that medieval enclosure destroyed a culture of farming, this modern enclosure can destroy a fertile ground for writers. His post is attached below.


Classic case of enclosure of the commons_One of the most insidious things about enclosures is how they eradicate the culture of commons and our memory of them.…_medium.com

What was equally interesting was an appended video interview with Samuel Bowles, an American economist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He talks about a new economic theory, which is the basis for this post of mine.

But what really took me by surprise was how the Professor actually provided a solid rational foundation for some of my intuitive suggestions in the ‘paywall for writers’ post. I guess that’s why my post was tagged by the writer. If you have 20 minutes, listen to the interview. The guy is brilliant.

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Talk to the Man

One of my favorite fictional characters used to be Professor Calculus of the French comic series starring Tintin by Herge. Professor Calculus is a lovable, good natured, well-meaning sort, and a brilliant scientist. But what really defined Professor Calculus was that he was hopelessly impractical.

Somehow Ev and the others who run Medium remind me of Professor Calculus. They mean well, but I sometimes get the feeling they are just as clueless as Professor Calculus.

One thing about Professor Calculus. He seemed to get along very well with other Professors. That made me wonder. Professor Calculus might not interested in what I have to say, but he just might listen to another professor.

Go on guys, meet up with Professor Bowles, and have a chat about what motivates people to do things. It just might open up a new line of thinking.

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